Exodus 34:29
And it came to pass, when Moses came down from mount Sinai with the two tables of testimony in Moses' hand, when he came down from the mount, that Moses knew not that the skin of his face shone while he talked with him.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
THE DESCENT OF MOSES FROM MOUNT SINAI WITH THE SECOND TABLES.

(29) The skin of his face shone.—That an actual physical phenomenon is intended appears from the entire narrative, as well as from St. Paul’s comment upon it in 2Corinthians 3:7-18. According to some commentators, a radiance like that here described was a part of man’s original heritage, a feature of that “image of God” wherein he was created (Genesis 1:27). The gift was forfeited by the fall, and will not be restored generally until the time of the restitution of all things. But meanwhile, from time to time, it pleases God to restore to certain of His saints the physical glory, which is the symbol of internal purity and holiness, as to Moses on this occasion and afterwards to Elijah on the mount of transfiguration (Luke 9:31), and to St. Stephen when he pleaded before the Sanhedrin (Acts 6:15). A glory of the kind, but of surpassing brilliancy, belonged to the human nature of our blessed Lord, who concealed it ordinarily, but allowed it to appear temporarily at the transfiguration, and permanently after His ascension (Revelation 1:16; Revelation 10:1; Revelation 21:23; Revelation 22:5). The grant of the privilege to Moses was perhaps necessary to support his authority among a people of such materialistic leanings as the Israelites.

While he talked with him.—Rather, through his talking with him. The brightness of Moses’ face was the reflex of that eternal glory which Moses had been given to witness on this last occasion, though in a veiled and modified manner (Exodus 33:23; Exodus 34:5-6), and which he had not seen previously. It remained henceforth a property of his countenance. Painters represent it by rays, or sometimes—but improperly—by horns, this latter usage originating in a mistaken rendering of the Vulgate (quod cornuta esset facies sua, instead of quod splenderet facies sua).

Exodus

BLESSED AND TRAGIC UNCONSCIOUSNESS

Exodus 34:29
. - Jdg 16:20.

The recurrence of the same phrase in two such opposite connections is very striking. Moses, fresh from the mountain of vision, where he had gazed on as much of the glory of God as was accessible to man, caught some gleam of the light which he adoringly beheld; and a strange radiance sat on his face, unseen by himself, but visible to all others. So, supreme beauty of character comes from beholding God and talking with Him; and the bearer of it is unconscious of it.

Samson, fresh from his coarse debauch, and shorn of the locks which he had vowed to keep, strides out into the air, and tries his former feats; but his strength has left him because the Lord has left him; and the Lord has left him because, in his fleshly animalism, he has left the Lord. Like, but most unlike, Moses, he knows not his weakness. So strength, like beauty, is dependent upon contact with God, and may ebb away when that is broken, and the man may be all unaware of his weakness till he tries his power, and ignominiously fails.

These two contrasted pictures, the one so mysteriously grand and the other so tragic, may well help to illustrate for us truths that should be burned into our minds and our memories.

I. Note, then, the first thought which they both teach us, that beauty and strength come from communion with God.

In both the cases with which we are dealing these were of a merely material sort. The light on Moses’ face and the strength in Samson’s arm were, at the highest, but types of something far higher and nobler than themselves. But still, the presence of the one and the departure of the other alike teach us the conditions on which we may possess both in nobler form, and the certainty of losing them if we lose hold of God.

Moses’ experience teaches us that the loftiest beauty of character comes from communion with God. That is the use that the Apostle makes of this remarkable incident in 2 Cor. iii, where he takes the light that shone from Moses’ face as being the symbol of the better lustre that gleams from all those who ‘behold {or reflect} the glory of the Lord’ with unveiled faces, and, by beholding, are ‘changed into the likeness’ of that on which they gaze with adoration and longing. The great law to which, almost exclusively, Christianity commits the perfecting of individual character is this: Look at Him till you become like Him, and in beholding, be changed. ‘Tell me the company a man keeps, and I will tell you his character,’ says the old proverb. And what is true on the lower levels of daily life, that most men become assimilated to the complexion of those around them, especially if they admire or love them, is the great principle whereby worship, which is desire and longing and admiration in the superlative degree, stamps the image of the worshipped upon the character of the worshipper. ‘They followed after vanity, and have become vain,’ says one of the prophets, gathering up into a sentence the whole philosophy of the degradation of humanity by reason of idolatry and the worship of false gods. ‘They that make them are like unto them; so is every one that trusteth in them.’ The law works upwards as well as downwards, for whom we worship we declare to be infinitely good; whom we worship we long to be like; whom we worship we shall certainly imitate.

Thus, brethren, the practical, plain lesson that comes from this thought is simply this: If you want to be pure and good, noble and gentle, sweet and tender; if you desire to be delivered from your own weaknesses and selfish, sinful idiosyncrasies, the way to secure your desire is, ‘Look unto Me and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth.’ Contemplation, which is love and longing, is the parent of all effort that succeeds. Contemplation of God in Christ is the master-key that opens this door, and makes it possible for the lowliest and the foulest amongst us to cherish unpresumptuous hopes of being like Him’ if we see Him as He is revealed here, and perfectly like Him when yonder we see Him ‘as He is.’

There have been in the past, and there are today, thousands of simple souls, shut out by lowliness of position and other circumstances from all the refining and ennobling influences of which the world makes so much, who yet in character and bearing, ay, and sometimes in the very look of their meek faces, are living witnesses how mighty to transform a nature is the power of loving gazing upon Jesus Christ. All of us who have had much to do with Christians of the humbler classes know that. There is no influence to refine and beautify men like that of living near Jesus Christ, and walking in the light of that Beauty which is ‘the effulgence of the divine glory and the express image of His Person.’

And in like manner as beauty so strength comes from communion with God and laying hold on Him. We can only think of Samson as a ‘saint’ in a very modified fashion, and present him as an example in a very limited degree. His dependence upon divine power was rude, and divorced from elevation of character and morality, but howsoever imperfect, fragmentary, and I might almost say to our more trained eyes, grotesque, it looks, yet there was a reality in it; and when the man was faithless to his vow, and allowed the crafty harlot’s scissors to shear from his head the token of his consecration, it was because the reality of the consecration, rude and external as that consecration was, both in itself and in its consequences, had passed away from him.

And so we may learn the lesson, taught at once by the flashing face of the lawgiver and the enfeebled force of the hero, that the two poles of perfectness in humanity, so often divorced from one another-beauty and strength-have one common source, and depend for their loftiest position upon the same thing. God possesses both in supremest degree, being the Almighty and the All-fair; and we possess them in limited, but yet possibly progressive, measure, through dependence upon Him. The true force of character, and the true power for work, and every real strength which is not disguised weakness, ‘a lath painted to look like iron,’ come on condition of our keeping close by God. The Fountain is open for you all; see to it that you resort thither.

II. And now the second thought of my text is that the bearer of the radiance is unconscious of it.

‘Moses wist not that the skin of his face shone.’ In all regions of life, the consummate apex and crowning charm of excellence is unconsciousness of excellence. Whenever a man begins to imagine that he is good, he begins to be bad; and every virtue and beauty of character is robbed of some portion of its attractive fairness when the man who bears it knows, or fancies, that he possesses it. The charm of childhood is its perfect unconsciousness, and the man has to win back the child’s heritage, and become ‘as a little child,’ if he would enter into and dwell in the ‘Kingdom of Heaven.’ And so in the loftiest region of all, that of the religious life, you may be sure that the more a man is like Christ, the less he knows it; and the better he is, the less he suspects it. The reasons why that is so, point, at the same time, to the ways by which we may attain to this blessed self-oblivion. So let me put just in a word or two some simple, practical thoughts.

Let us, then, try to lose ourselves in Jesus Christ. That way of self-oblivion is emancipation and blessedness and power. It is safe for us to leave all thoughts of our miserable selves behind us, if instead of them we have the thought of that great, sweet, dear Lord, filling mind and heart. A man walking on a tight-rope will be far more likely to fall, if he is looking at his toes, than if he is looking at the point to which he is going. If we fix our eyes on Jesus, then we can safely look, neither to our feet nor to the gulfs; but straight at Him gazing, we shall straight to Him advance. ‘Looking off’ from ourselves ‘unto Jesus’ is safe; looking off anywhere else is peril. Seek that self-oblivion which comes from self being swallowed up in the thought of the Lord.

And again, I would say, think constantly and longingly of the unattained. ‘Brethren! I count not myself to have apprehended.’ Endless aspiration and a stinging consciousness of present imperfection are the loftiest states of man here below. The beholders down in the valley, when they look up, may see our figures against the skyline, and fancy us at the summit, but our loftier elevation reveals untrodden heights beyond; and we have only risen so high in order to discern more clearly how much higher we have to rise. Dissatisfaction with the present is the condition of excellence in all pursuits of life, and in the Christian life even more eminently than in all others, because the goal to be attained is in its very nature infinite; and therefore ensures the blessed certainty of continual progress, accompanied here, indeed, with the sting and bite of a sense of imperfection, but one day to be only sweetness, as we think of how much there is yet to be won in addition to the perfection of the present.

So, dear friends, the best way to keep ourselves unconscious of present attainments is to set our faces forward, and to make ‘all experience’ as ‘an arch wherethro’ gleams that untraveiled world to which we move.’ ‘Moses wist not that the skin of his face shone.’

The third practical suggestion that I would make is, cultivate a clear sense of your own imperfections. We do not need to try to learn our goodness. That will suggest itself to us only too clearly; but what we do need is to have a very clear sense of our shortcomings and failures, our faults of temper, our faults of desire, our faults in our relations to our fellows, and all the other evils that still buzz and sting and poison our blood. Has not the best of us enough of these to knock all the conceit out of us? A true man will never be so much ashamed of himself as when he is praised, for it will always send him to look into the deep places of his heart, and there will be a swarm of ugly, creeping things under the stones there, if he will only turn them up and look beneath. So let us lose ourselves in Christ, let us set our faces to the unattained future, let us clearly understand our own faults and sins.

III. Thirdly, the strong man made weak is unconscious of his weakness.

I do not mean here to touch at all upon the general thought that, by its very nature, all evil tends to make us insensitive to its presence. Conscience becomes dull by practice of sin and by neglect of conscience, until that which at first was as sensitive as the palm of a little child’s hand becomes as if it were ‘seared with a hot iron.’ The foulness of the atmosphere of a crowded hall is not perceived by the people in it. It needs a man to come in from the outer air to detect it. We can accustom ourselves to any mephitic and poisonous atmosphere, and many of us live in one all our days, and do not know that there is any need of ventilation or that the air is not perfectly sweet. The ‘deceitfulness’ of sin is its great weapon.

But what I desire to point out is an even sadder thing than that-namely, that Christian people may lose their strength because they let go their hold upon God, and know nothing about it. Spiritual declension, all unconscious of its own existence, is the very history of hundreds of nominal Christians amongst us, and, I dare say, of some of us. The very fact that you do not suppose the statement to have the least application to yourself is perhaps the very sign that it does apply. When the lifeblood is pouring out of a man, he faints before he dies. The swoon of unconsciousness is the condition of some professing Christians. Frost-bitten limbs are quite comfortable, and only tingle when circulation is coming back. I remember a great elm-tree, the pride of an avenue in the south, that had spread its branches for more years than the oldest man could count, and stood, leafy and green. Not until a winter storm came one night and laid it low with a crash did anybody suspect what everybody saw in the morning-that the heart was eaten out of it, and nothing left but a shell of bark. Some Christian people are like that; they manage to grow leaves, and even some fruit, but when the storm comes they will go down, because the heart has been out of their religion for years. ‘Samson wist not that the Lord was departed from him.’

And so, brother, because there are so many things that mask the ebbing away of a Christian life, and because our own self-love and habits come in to hide declension, let me earnestly exhort you and myself to watch ourselves very narrowly. Unconsciousness does not mean ignorant presumption or presumptuous ignorance. It is difficult to make an estimate of ourselves by poking into our own sentiments and supposed feelings and convictions, and the estimate is likely to be wrong. There is a better way than that. Two things tell what a man is-one, what he wants, and the other, what he does. As the will is, the man is. Where do the currents of your desires set? If you watch their flow, you may be pretty sure whether your religious life is an ebbing or a rising tide. The other way to ascertain what we are is rigidly to examine and judge what we do. ‘Let us search and try our ways, and turn again to the Lord.’ Actions are the true test of a man. Conduct is the best revelation of character, especially in regard to ourselves. So let us ‘watch and be sober’-sober in our estimate of ourselves, and determined to find every lurking evil, and to drag it forth into the light.

Again, let me say, let us ask God to help us. ‘Search me, O God! and try me.’ We shall never rightly understand what we are, unless we spread ourselves out before Him and crave that Divine Spirit, who is ‘the candle of the Lord,’ to be carried ever in our hands into the secret recesses of our sinful hearts. ‘Anoint thine eyes with eye salve that thou mayest see,’ and get the eye salve by communion with God, who will supply thee a standard by which to try thy poor, stained, ragged righteousness. The collyrium, the eye salve, may be, will be, painful when it is rubbed into the lids, but it will clear the sight; and the first work of Him, whose dearest name is Comforter, is to convince of sin.

And, last of all, let us keep near to Jesus Christ, near enough to Him to feel His touch, to hear His voice, to see His face, and to carry down with us into the valley some radiance on our countenances which may tell even the world, that we have been up where the Light lives and reigns.

‘Because thou sayest, I am rich and increased with goods, and have need of nothing, and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked, I counsel thee to buy of Me gold tried in the fire, that thou mayest be rich; and white raiment, that thou mayest be clothed, and that the shame of thy nakedness do not appear; and anoint thine eyes with eye salve, that thou mayest see.’Exodus 34:29. The skin of his face shone — At this time of his being in the mount, he heard only the same he had heard before. But he saw more of the glory of God, which having with open face beheld, he was, in some measure, changed into the same image. This was a great honour done to Moses, that the people might never again question his mission, or think or speak slightly of him. He carried his credentials in his very countenance; some think, as long as he lived he retained some remainders of this glory, which perhaps contributed to the vigour of his old age; that eye could not wax dim which had seen God, nor that face wrinkle which had shone with his glory.34:28-35 Near and spiritual communion with God improves the graces of a renewed and holy character. Serious godliness puts a lustre upon a man's countenance, such as commands esteem and affection. The vail which Moses put on, marked the obscurity of that dispensation, compared with the gospel dispensation of the New Testament. It was also an emblem of the natural vail on the hearts of men respecting spiritual things. Also the vail that was and is upon the nation of Israel, which can only be taken away by the Spirit of the Lord showing to them Christ, as the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth. Fear and unbelief would put the vail before us, they would hinder our free approach to the mercy-seat above. We should spread our wants, temporal and spiritual, fully before our heavenly Father; we should tell him our hinderances, struggles, trails, and temptations; we should acknowledge our offences.The two tables of testimony - Compare Exodus 31:18.

The skin of his face shone - Compare Matthew 17:2. The brightness of the Eternal Glory, though Moses had witnessed it only in a modified manner Exodus 33:22-23, was so reflected in his face, that Aaron and the people were stricken with awe, and feared to approach him until he gave them words of encouragement.

The word translated "shine" is closely connected with a word translated "horn"; and hence, the Latin version and others have rendered the verb "to be horned." From this rendering of the word has arisen the popular representation of Moses with horns on his forehead; e. g. in Michaelangelo's statue at Rome.

29. Moses wist not that the skin of his face shone while he talked with him—It was an intimation of the exalted presence into which he had been admitted and of the glory he had witnessed (2Co 3:18); and in that view, it was a badge of his high office as the ambassador of God. No testimonial needed to be produced. He bore his credentials on his very face; and whether this extraordinary effulgence was a permanent or merely temporary distinction, it cannot be doubted that this reflected glory was given him as an honor before all the people. Quest. Why now, and not when he came down from God before?

Answ.

1. Because now he obtained what he did not before, to wit, a glimpse of the Divine glory, which, though but very transient, left its print upon his face.

2. Now it was more necessary than before, to procure the greater honour to Moses, and to the law, 2 Corinthians 3:7,8,11, because of the late horrid Violation and contempt of them, which the Israelites had fallen into. And it came to pass, when Moses came down Mount Sinai,.... Which was on the day of atonement, according to Jarchi, that is, the tenth of Tisri, or September; and so the Jewish chronologers (q) fix his descent on this day:

with the two tables of testimony in Moses's hand; the two tables he carried up, on which God had wrote the law, called "the testimony", being a testification and declaration of his will to the children of Israel:

when he came down from the mount, that Moses wist not that the skin of his face shone, while he talked with him: the Targum of Jonathan is,"Moses knew not that the splendour of the form of his face was become illustrious, which he had from the brightness of the glory of the Shechinah of the Lord, at the time he talked with him.''And this the apostle calls "the glory of his countenance", 2 Corinthians 3:7 the glory of the Lord as it passed before him, when in the cleft of the rock, and that degree of it he was admitted to the sight of, while conversing with God, during his stay on the mount forty days and forty nights, left a shining glory on his countenance; which while he was with God he could not be at all sensible of, the glory of God so infinitely surpassing that; and when he came down the mount, as he could not see his own face without a glass, so though the rays of light and glory that darted from his face were so bright and strong, that they might have been observed by him, yet his mind was so intent on what he had seen and heard, that he took no notice of them. The Vulgate Latin version renders it very wrongly, "that his face was horned", which has given occasion to painters to represent him in a ridiculous manner, as having horns coming out of his forehead; though the word has the signification of an horn, and the meaning of that version, as of others, may only be, that the skin of his face "darted out rays" (r) like horns, such as the rays of the sun appear to be like to the eye, see Habakkuk 3:4 hence Jupiter Ammon, the same with the sun, is described as having horns (s); and so Bacchus, who is supposed to be the same with Moses, is represented as having a horned face (t). Now this glory was left on the countenance of Moses, to show that he had had communion with God, and that the law he brought with him was from him; and to signify the glory of it, and to command awe and reverence, and make men afraid to break it.

(q) Seder Olam Rabba, c. 6. p. 19. (r) "radios ejacularetur", Tigurine version; "in modum cornu radiaret", Munster, Fagius, "vel rediasset", Vatablus; "splendere instar cornu", Drusius; so Karnon * in the Arabic language signifies the rays of the sun. * Golius, col. 1896. Castel. col. 3455. (s) Vid. Diodor. Sicul. l. 3. p. 201. Macrob. Saturnal. l. 1. c. 21. (t) Diodor. Sicul. l. 4. p. 212. so Orpheus calls Bacchus, Hymn. p. 126. and Horace ascribes to him, "cornu decorum", Carmin. l. 2. Ode 19.

And it came to pass, when Moses came down from mount Sinai with the two tables of testimony in Moses' hand, when he came down from the mount, that Moses wist not that the skin of his face shone while he talked with him.
EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
29. the two tables of the testimony] as Exodus 31:18 a; cf. on Exodus 25:16.

shone] viz. from the reflexion of the Divine glory (Exodus 24:16 f.). The Heb. verb is a peculiar one, recurring only vv. 30, 35: it is a denominative from ḳéren, ‘horn,’ in the sense of ray (see Habakkuk 3:4), and means thus, was rayed. Jerome, following Aq., rendered literally in the Vulg. quod cornuta esset; hence the frequent representation of Moses in art with horns rising out of his head. LXX. δεδόξασται; see below.

by reason of] The marg. is equally possible grammatically; but the context shews that the rend. of the text is right.

29–35. The shining of Moses’ face when he came down after God’s converse with him on the mountain. The sequel in P to Exodus 24:15-18 a, Exodus 25:1 to Exodus 31:18 a (Di.).Verse 29. - The skin of his face shone while he talked with him. Rather, "through his talking with him." The glory of God, as revealed to Moses on this occasion, caused his face to become henceforth radiant. Compare the effect of the transfiguration (Matthew 17:2). The Vulgate wrongly translates haran, "to shine," as if it were derived from keren, "a horn" - whence the painters of mediaeval times commonly represent Moses as horned. St. Paul's words (2 Corinthians 3:7) are conclusive as to the true meaning. The true way to worship Jehovah is then pointed out, first of all negatively, in the prohibition against making molten images, with an allusion to the worship of the golden calf, as evinced by the use of the expression מסּכה אלהי, which only occurs again in Leviticus 19:4, instead of the phrase "gods of silver and gold" (Exodus 20:23); and then positively, by a command to observe the feast of Mazzoth and the consecration of the first-born connected with the Passover (see at Exodus 13:2, Exodus 13:11, and Exodus 13:12), also the Sabbath (Exodus 34:21), the feasts of Weeks and Ingathering, the appearance of the male members of the nation three times a year before the Lord (Exodus 34:22, see at Exodus 23:14-17), together with all the other instructions connected with them (Exodus 34:25, Exodus 34:26). Before the last, however, the promise is introduced, that after the expulsion of the Canaanites, Jehovah would enlarge the borders of Israel (cf. Exodus 23:31), and make their land so secure, that when they went up to the Lord three times in the year, no one should desire their land, sc., because of the universal dread of the might of their God (Exodus 23:27).
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